Yangzi, Yangtze, Yangtse I suck at English and spelling as it is and the Chinese do not help my cause. Nothing here is spelt the same way twice. I am going with Yangtze as I like the way it looks. Either way, we flew to Chongquing (on Tuesday) to pick up the start of our cruise. We didn't look much into Chongquing as we thought we were getting right on the boat. Turns out we had an afternoon to kill and our guide and driver were eager to show us their city.
30 mm people live in Chongquing. That is basically Canada in a city. One city. And you know what, the traffic is better than Beijing. Chongquing is in the mountains (rolling green hills actually) of China. Hot and humid (imagine 45 degrees and humidity in the summer) it was the first place we have been in China where WWII was really a focal point. During the war the capital of China was moved to Chongquing as it is surrounded by rivers (natural moats) and mountains. Most of the historical part of the city was bombed by the Japanese. This part of Chinese history requires more work on my part but this is the first time I realized the Japanese occupied major parts of China (Beijing included) and perhaps if Pearl Harbour hadn't happened this area might still be Japanese.
We learned Chongquing is one of four direct controlled municipalities in China. Thus, is treated as a province, similar to Beijing there are only two levels of government. Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin are the other three. So now we have direct controlled municipalities, autonomous regions and provinces. Oh and Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Chongquing turned out to be a charming place to spend the afternoon. We started with lunch and the traditional Chongquing Hot Pot. They bring a large pot with broth and oil (one side spicy one side not) and place it on a burner in the middle of the table. Diners add the ingredients also placed on your table (fish, beef, pork balls, seaweed, rice noodles and a smattering of other unidentifiable veggies) once cooked you pluck them out with your chopsticks and dunk them in a sauce you have assembled from a line of other ingredients (peanuts, soya sauce, chilli sauce, sesame oil etc). It was pretty entertaining watching us white people try this and actually pretty damn tasty (we steered clear of the exotic meats).
We visited the central square (very important in Chinese culture people actually use their parks, play cards, music, mahjong, spinner, dance (looks like a flash mob) it has been pretty cool to witness) and we visited the market. Meat market was similar to the last one we saw and I won't lie, hard to stomach as a Canadian, dogs wander around licking the very sticky floor and it smells, well like a meat market. They eat everything of the animal (1.4 B people to fed they have no choice, They also believe certain parts of the animal are good for you, pigs feet for example help your skin and wrinkles). The vegetables they grow here make ones head spin. So much variety and they are mutants! The radishes are the size of a small squash, many different kinds of cabbage and squash. And again they eat the whole plant (roots and all) and each plant is good for something wether it be healing an alignment or promoting healthy living.
From the market we headed to the Old Town, which is pretty much a handful of buildings after the war and cultural revolution (wow did they lose a lot during those years). We had the cutest and funnest guide, her english was amazing, most of our guides spent 4 years in University learning English and while I am sure their written and reading comprehension exceeds mine spoken English varies greatly among them (hard to practice speaking English with someone who is also learning English).
I fell in love with the story of the Pixiu Dragon in Chongquin, the constipated dragon. He has his mouth open but no hole out the other end, he is found at the door of Casinos in Macau. He takes your money and doesn't let it go. I may have been snookered by our friendly Chinese guide but I am coming home with 'a pair of 80 year old Pixiu jade dragons, complete with official papers (aka a red book with Chinese writing that I can not read)'. Authentic, I have no idea but I like them and the story (they will sit on the front table of the house so guests be warned, they take your money and don't give it back).
The Banyan Tree, or Birthday Tree, is the official tree of Chongquin, it is the birthday tree because regardless of season the Banyan Tree sheds its leaves the time it was planted. It marches to the beat of its own drum. I instantly liked it.
Chongquin was truly the city of contrast, standing in a building from the Ming Dynasty you could look up and see a "Mao" building (after the last cultural revolution) and then see the Chinese National Bird, the crane. Seriously, they joke about it but it is true, 8% growth for a decade you can see it. Enormous condo complexes, some almost done, some half done, Ger and I can't decide if this is the next superpower or fiscal crisis.
We had to bus to our boat which was docked in Fengdu, as the water is low this time of year. Another fascinating journey down the super interstate which because it is mountainous is either a bridge or tunnel (I am not kidding the Chinese road engineers are genius they do not go over or down anything).
We boarded our boat late (8pm but our Chongquin guide warned us so Ger and I were stocked with snacks and wine) and there is about 20 "foreign tourists" (aka round eyes) amongst 200 Chinese. The Boat is clean and nice, the "fitness facilities" are sparse (the only treadmill is broken) but they do have a hair saloon where Princess got her hair washed and blow dried (thanks Karen!).
First stop today was a tour of the ghost city of Fendgu (small cities along the river were relocated for the dam and the subsequent flooding). After Fendgu we sailed the river (I slept most of it, Greenall Bootcamp catches up with you) until Shi Boa Zhai (Stone Treasure Fortress). Turns out Ger and I were the only two of the 20 to participate in the optional tour so we had a private tour of this odd temple on a rock.
The Chinese are a fun culture (once I got over that their customs are not North American), they wish for three things, happiness, longevity and good fortune. They truly are happy, pushy (by our standards) but quite jovial. I have embraced the pushy (fits my nature) yesterday as we debarked from the plane and I stepped aggressively (by Canadian standards) in the aisle, cutting the little lady off behind me and felt a pang of rudeness, until the little man in front of me pulled down the overhead baggage and couldn't reach his bag so I (all of 5"5) reached up and grabbed it for him. I got 3 unsolicited hugs from people who just tried to run me over (including the little lady I cut off). That's why we travel isn't it? Odd and different behaviour.
Dinner (buffet but surprisingly good since we are in a special 'round eye' dining room) and a couple (that is not a typo Aussiew wine is good on the boat and I am on vacation after all) bottles of wine and I am ready for bed again. Tomorrow we start to see the three gorges and I suspect the next blog will be about the gorges and the dam (another engineering marvel).
Until next time,